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A Halloween Master of Disguise
October 29, 2011  | By Eric Gould
It's Halloween, and since it's the time of year for the utterly icky and strange, there's no better occasion to flip through the archives for a show that introduces us to a spineless, pale Cephalopoda with large, smart-looking eyes that shifts shape, and that can also attack with an eight-armed face.

The 2006 NOVA documentary called "Kings of Camouflage" is all about the squid-like cuttlefIsh, a truly bizarre-looking sea creature that is about as easily explained as the multiple shapes it assumes.

Best of all, this one-hour show taking a thorough look at the slimy chameleon is online, free, and just a click away.


Picture a cross between an octopus and a mollusk motoring along on a rippling, fleshy skirt. It's also got an electric-like skin that can start with a dull, bumpy seaweed look and then swell into shrill, hot colors. Then you'll have something close to this creepy little freak that ranges from a half-foot to sometimes over three feet in exotic cases.

Initially, the video of this undersea alien morphing and spasming might make your skin crawl just about as much as the animal's own skin does.

But then it becomes as queer and alien as anything you've seen, and -- so to speak -- you're sucked in. It's another fascinating natural-world study from NOVA that serves up creations stranger than any screenwriter could conjure.

And speaking of being served up, cuttlefish are invertebrates. They make a tasty protein treat for larger predators, so camouflage is their only defense.

This chameleonlike magic also contributes to their elaborate reproductive techniques, some of which include the clever, smaller males that essentially cross-dress as plain-looking females. While the larger alpha males fight over the females to, the little guys slide in, literally, under the radar to do their business.


Turns out, says Massachusetts oceanographer Roger Hanlon, that DNA testing shows the females choose the cross-dressing males by more than 70 percent for their next fertilizations. "The only reason we can think of is that this is a very bold, smart tactic, and the females may be acknowledging that in evolutionary terms . . . so this trick, as strange as it seems, is very successful."

So there you go, guys. Even a squid can learn the mind of its partner and outwit the marketplace. Take from that what you will.

Either way you slice the calamari, cuttlefish are as unique as they come. Dr. Jesse Purdy, a researcher of these intelligent invertebrates says, "We are testing an animal that's very alien. It's as close perhaps, as we're going to get to studying an animal on another planet."

Here's the link to watch NOVA: "Kings of Camouflage" free online.

And incidentally, for a Master of Disguise who learned absolutely nothing from the cuttlefish, see this...he just a doofus who isn't fooling anybody:

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